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Monday Scramble: Close encounters

By Mercer BaggsMay 28, 2018, 1:30 pm

Justin Rose takes down another classic venue. Rory McIlroy blows another chance to win. And we've got a monster week ahead in the golf world. All that and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble.

Justin Rose is a big game hunter. Take a look at some of courses he's bagged as part of his nine PGA Tour victories: Muirfield Village, Aronimink, Cog Hill, Doral, Merion, Congressional and now Colonial. He's also won an additional seven events on the European Tour (on courses including Valderrama and Royal Aberdeen) and a gold medal at the 2016 Olympic Games.

So, is that a Hall of Fame resume? Well, golf writers no longer have an official say. That will ultimately be up to a 16-member selection committee. Said committee is going to have to make some tough decisions down the line. Just taking into consider what they've done to this point in their careers, there are some legitimate borderline contenders. Among the more established one-major winners: Rose, Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson, Henrik Stenson, Jim Furyk and Adam Scott. Among the multiple major champs: Bubba Watson, Martin Kaymer and Zach Johnson.

Speaking specifically of Rose, you have to take into strong consideration the caliber of venues at which he's won. And while the field in Rio a few years ago wasn't major-caliber, winning gold may prove to be the defining moment of his career.

Hall of Fame? We'll see how high the committee's standards are.

1. Over the last decade at Colonial Country Club, everything from 9 under par to 21 under par has proved victorious. This year it was closer, much closer, to the latter. Rose made 25 birdies and five bogeys for a 20-under total. Had he not bogeyed the 72nd hole, he would have tied the tournament scoring record. Five of the last six events, including the Zurich team competition, have been won at 17 under or lower. For those of you who prefer higher scores, fear not. The U.S. Open is in a few weeks and the average winning score of its predecessor, the FedEx St. Jude Classic, over the eight years is 11 under. Only one player in the last decade has shot lower than 16 under at the Memorial Tournament (this week's event). That, however, would be Rose (18 under, 2010). 

2. Second sucks. Brooks Koepka concurs with Tiger Woods. Koepka earned his sixth runner-up finish since May 2016, finishing three shots behind Rose in Fort Worth. Koepka wasn't quite as abrasive as Woods was in the late-90s, just referring to the close calls as "annoying." He does, however, have a U.S. Open victory - and a win in the Dunlop Phoenix - during that stretch. Given his good form, he could become the first player since Curtis Strange, in 1989, to defend his national championship title.

3. Kevin Na opened in 62 and closed in 61, and finished six shots back of Rose. Middle rounds of 73-70 at par-70 Colonial cost him any chance of a second PGA Tour title. That's now one career victory in 367 Tour starts. At least he has nearly $26 million in earnings to comfort him.

4. Before we leave Colonial, let's remember ... we don't have to. Thanks to Charles Schwab and Co., stepping in as sponsor, beginning next year, this event - and this venue - will remain on the Tour schedule for the foreseeable future.



5. And, before we get dive into what McIlroy didn't do at the BMW PGA Championship, let's pay off the man who got the job done. Francesco Molinari earned the biggest victory of his career by beating McIlroy head-to-head on Sunday at Wentworth Club. The two began the final round tied for the lead. Molinari closed in 68, McIlroy in 70. The 35-year-old Italian played his final 44 holes bogey-free and only made two all week to capture the European Tour's version of The Players. It's Molinari's fifth career European Tour win.

6. McIlroy could have five wins this season. Alas, he has but one (Arnold Palmer Invitational). McIlroy was once again in prime position to add to his trophy case. He played so well through two rounds that defending champion and playing competitor Alex Noren joked about quitting the game. But Saturday was erratic and Sunday was unproductive, and, in the end, he was left with a solo second-place finish. "I should have closed it out," he said. Just as he should have done at the Masters, and in Dubai, and in Abu Dhabi.

7. European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn began last week by naming Padraig Harrington, Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Graeme McDowell as his assistants. But he had to be even happier with the way the week ended. Rose won on the PGA Tour. Molinari emerged on the European Tour. And McIlroy is thisclose to being dominant Rory again. Molinari was on the victorious 2010 and 2012 European teams. His half-point against Tiger Woods in singles in '12 helped the away team complete the Miracle at Medinah.



8. Did someone say Tiger Woods? He's in action this week at the Memorial Tournament. Given his history at this event (five wins) and his impressive weekend showing in his most recent start (The Players), the expectations will be high at Muirfield Village. But when aren't they? Tiger will get the lion's share of attention, but the field also includes McIlroy, Rose, Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler. And, of course, host Jack Nicklaus will hold court in the media center. Expect lots of good headlines.

9. The women, meanwhile, will be competing in the U.S. Women's Open at Shoal Creek ... weather permitting. Mother Nature has not been kind to the LPGA this year and with Subtropical Storm Alberto moving through the Gulf of Mexico and into Alabama, it's going to be another rainy occasion.

This section is usually reserved for something wacky that happened in the past seven days. But this week we spotlight the heroics of Jason Seaman, a 29-year-old science instructor and seventh grade football coach at Noblesville West Middle School in Indiana. Seaman took three bullets in helping stop a school shooting. Seaman survived.

Golf Channel insider Tim Rosaforte reported that Seaman's aunt, Tracy Hubly, was serving as caddie for her husband, Chris Starkjohann, at the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship. Said Hubly, "You hear the stories about these shootings and I think about Parkland and the officer that was trained but didn’t go into the school. It’s really shocking to think it comes close to your family, but it does."

Another school shooting. What the hell?

This week's award winners ...



Dude is major: Paul Broadhurst won the Senior PGA Championship, defeating Tim Petrovic by four shots at Harbor Shores. The 52-year-old Englishman closed in 63 to earn his fourth career PGA Tour Champions title and his second senior major (2016 Senior Open Championship).



Happy birthday to Minjee: Minjee Lee birdied the final hole for a one-stroke win at the LPGA Volvik Championship. She turned 22 on Sunday and collected her fourth career tour victory, at an event in which she finished runner-up a year ago.



Hale(y) to the victors!: The University of Arizona won the NCAA Women's DI Championship when Haley Moore made birdie in a sudden-death playoff to give the Wildcats a 3-2 victory over Alabama in the finals. Arizona needed an eagle by Bianca Pagdanganan and then a playoff win over Baylor just to make the match-play field. Now, they are a three-time national champion.

Live up to that, fellas: The man now take the stage at Karsten Creek. You can watch the action live on Golf Channel:

  • Monday: Final day of stroke play to determine individual champion and match-play field
  • Tuesday: Quarterfinals (11AM ET) and Semifinals (4PM)
  • Wednesday: Finals (4PM)
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USC's Gaston leaves to become head coach at A&M

By Ryan LavnerJune 19, 2018, 11:00 pm

In a major shakeup in the women’s college golf world, USC coach Andrea Gaston has accepted an offer to become the new head coach at Texas A&M.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Gaston, who informed her players of her decision Monday night, has been one of the most successful coaches over the past two decades, leading the Trojans to three NCAA titles and producing five NCAA individual champions during her 22-year reign. They have finished in the top 5 at nationals in an NCAA-record 13 consecutive seasons.

This year was arguably Gaston’s most impressive coaching job. She returned last fall after undergoing treatment for uterine cancer, but a promising season was seemingly derailed after losing two stars to the pro ranks at the halfway point. Instead, she guided a team with four freshmen and a sophomore to the third seed in stroke play and a NCAA semifinals appearance. Of the four years that match play has been used in the women’s game, USC has advanced to the semifinals three times.  

Texas A&M could use a coach with Gaston’s track record.

Last month the Aggies fired coach Trelle McCombs after 11 seasons following a third consecutive NCAA regional exit. A&M had won conference titles as recently as 2010 (Big 10) and 2015 (SEC), but this year the team finished 13th at SECs.

The head-coaching job at Southern Cal is one of the most sought-after in the country and will have no shortage of outside interest. If the Trojans look to promote internally, men’s assistant Justin Silverstein spent four years under Gaston and helped the team win the 2013 NCAA title.  

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Spieth 'blacked out' after Travelers holeout

By Will GrayJune 19, 2018, 9:44 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – It was perhaps the most-replayed shot (and celebration) of the year.

Jordan Spieth’s bunker holeout to win the Travelers Championship last year in a playoff over Daniel Berger nearly broke the Internet, as fans relived that raucous chest bump between Spieth and caddie Michael Greller after Spieth threw his wedge and Greller threw his rake.

Back in Connecticut to defend his title, Spieth admitted that he has watched replays of the scene dozens of times – even if, in the heat of the moment, he wasn’t exactly choreographing every move.


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“Just that celebration in general, I blacked out,” Spieth said. “It drops and you just react. For me, I’ve had a few instances where I’ve been able to celebrate or react on a 72nd, 73rd hole, 74th hole, whatever it may be, and it just shows how much it means to us.”

Spieth and Greller’s celebration was so memorable that tournament officials later shipped the rake to Greller as a keepsake. It’s a memory that still draws a smile from the defending champ, whose split-second decision to go for a chest bump over another form of celebration provided an appropriate cap to a high-energy sequence of events.

“There’s been a lot of pretty bad celebrations on the PGA Tour. There’s been a lot of missed high-fives,” Spieth said. “I’ve been part of plenty of them. Pretty hard to miss when I’m going into Michael for a chest bump.”

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Pregnant Lewis playing final events before break

By Randall MellJune 19, 2018, 9:27 pm

Stacy Lewis will be looking to make the most of her last three starts of 2018 in her annual return to her collegiate roots this week.

Lewis, due to give birth to her first child on Nov. 3, will tee it up in Friday’s start to the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers, Arkansas. She won the NCAA individual women’s national title in 2007 while playing at the University of Arkansas. She is planning to play the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship next week and then the Marathon Classic two weeks after that before taking the rest of the year off to get ready for her baby’s arrival.

Lewis, 33, said she is beginning to feel the effects of being with child.

“Things have definitely gotten harder, I would say, over the last week or so, the heat of the summer and all that,” Lewis said Tuesday. “I'm actually excited. I'm looking forward to the break and being able to decorate the baby's room and do all that kind of stuff and to be a mom - just super excited.”

Lewis says she is managing her energy levels, but she is eager to compete.

“Taking a few more naps and resting a little bit more,” she said. “Other than that, the game's been pretty good.”

Lewis won the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship in 2014, and she was credited with an unofficial title in ’07, while still a senior at Arkansas. That event was reduced to 18 holes because of multiple rain delays. Lewis is a popular alumni still actively involved with the university.

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Just like last year, Spieth in desperate need of a spark

By Will GrayJune 19, 2018, 8:38 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Jordan Spieth has arrived at the Travelers Championship in need of a turnaround. Again.

Spieth’s playoff victory last year over Daniel Berger, complete with a bunker hole-out and raucous celebration, went down as one of the most electrifying moments of 2017. It also propelled Spieth to some more major glory, as he won The Open in his very next start.

So it’s easy to forget the state of Spieth’s game when he first stepped foot on the grounds of TPC River Highlands a year ago. Things were, quite plainly, not going well.

He was struggling on the greens, even going so far as to switch putters at the AT&T Byron Nelson. He then failed to contend at Erin Hills, only netting a T-35 finish thanks to a final-round 69 that came hours before the leaders teed off.

So here we are again, with Spieth in search of a spark after a series of underwhelming performances that included last week’s effort at Shinnecock Hills, where he bogeyed the last two holes of his second round to miss the cut by a shot. Except this time, the climb back to the top may be even steeper than it was a year ago.

“I’m not sure where the state of my game is right now,” Spieth said. “If I strike the ball the way I have been this year, then the results are coming. But the last couple weeks I’ve played Muirfield and then the (U.S.) Open, and I hit the ball really poorly and didn’t give myself that many opportunities to let the putter do the work.”

While many big names play sporadically in the time between the Masters and U.S. Open, Spieth remained as busy as ever thanks to the Tour’s swing through Texas. So even after failing to contend much in the spring outside of a memorable finale in Augusta, and even after struggling for much of his week at TPC Sawgrass, Spieth looked out at his schedule and saw a myriad of possible turning points.

There was the AT&T Byron Nelson, played in his hometown and at a venue on which he was one of only a handful with any experience (T-21). Then a trip across town to Colonial, where he had beaten all but two players in a three-year stretch (T-32).


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Throw in the missed cuts at Muirfield Village and Shinnecock Hills, and Spieth has made it to the last leg of a six-event stretch that has included only one off week and, to date, zero chances to contend come Sunday.

“I think here this week, the key for me is just to get out in the first round and try not to do too much,” Spieth said. “I mean, 90-plus percent of the tournaments the last two years I’ve thrown out my chances to win a golf tournament on Thursday. I’ve had too much to do from here on.”

That was certainly the case last week on Long Island, where Spieth’s hopes for a fourth major title evaporated well before course conditions became a focal point over the weekend. He was 4 over through his first two holes and spent much of the next 34 stuck in a fit of frustration. He gave himself a glimmer of hope with four late birdies Friday followed by a pair of bogeys that snuffed it out with equal speed.

Spieth has continued to preach patience throughout the year, but there’s no getting around some eye-popping stats; he's 188th on Tour this year in strokes gained: putting and 93rd in fairways hit. It can foster a pressure to find a cure-all in any given week, especially given how quickly he got a middling summer back on track last year.

“It’s something that you fight, sure,” Spieth said. “It’s been that way just about every tournament except Muirfield, because then you go to the U.S. Open and think you don’t even have to shoot under par to win this golf tournament. So as much as that kind of comes into your head, it’s not bothering me this time. I’m going to try and have fun, and make progress.”

After this week, Spieth will have some down time with family before making the trip overseas to Carnoustie. He plans to have a few private dinners accompanied by the claret jug, one last toast to last year’s success before turning the trophy back over to the R&A.

But even Spieth admitted that as it pertains to his chances to follow in Brooks Koepka’s footsteps by successfully defending a major title, he’ll be greatly aided by working his way into the mix this weekend. It represents the last chance in this early-summer swing to get his name back on the leaderboard, an opportunity to light fire to a pedestrian campaign like he did a year ago.

No pressure.

“It’s your basic stuff that sometimes gets off, that the harder you try to get them back on sometimes, the worse it gets,” Spieth said. “It can be frustrating, or you can just kind of wait for it to come to you. I think I’m OK with where things are, whether it’s the rest of this year or next year. I feel like there are good scores coming.”